After a deluge of rain in late March, some Clintonville residents discovered water in their basements -- something many of them had never seen before, or at least at that level.

Soggy basements are exactly the situation Blueprint Columbus, the city's stormwater initiative, is working to mitigate. That's despite questions on community forums and calls to city offices, asking if filled rain gardens contributed to the problem, said Leslie Westerfelt of the Columbus Department of Utilities and spokeswoman for Blueprint Columbus.

"People were seeing the rain gardens fill up with water and overflow into the street. That's OK. That's how it's designed," Westerfelt said.

Blueprint Columbus began installing the rain gardens -- plant-filled areas that jut out into the street and filter rainwater before it enters the Olentangy River -- in 2017, and since has built dozens across the neighborhood.

The city is obligated under an order from the Ohio EPA to eliminate sanitary-sewer overflows, and the gardens are part of the effort, according to Blueprint Columbus' website.

"I understand how you could ask, if you're seeing more water in the rain gardens and then there's water in your basement that you've never had before, if there's a connection," Westerfelt said. "That overflow is already past the point where it could contribute to water in your basement."

Westerfelt said the city's 311 service center received thousands of calls from across the city in late March, and the Blueprint Columbus office itself fielded between 75 and 100 calls about water, not only in basements but in yards, many where it had never been before, according to the callers.

"For most people, this is a rare occurrence and has to do with rainwater getting into the sanitary-sewer system, which isn't intended to handle it," Westerfelt said. "We had about 3 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period, coming on the heels of 3 to 4 inches of rain the previous few days. It had nowhere to go and ended up in the sanitary-sewer system, which was overwhelmed."

The rain gardens are just one way Blueprint is working to improve both storm runoff and sanitary-sewer performance, Westerfelt said. The city offers sump pumps to homeowners, as well; Westerfelt said residents who want more information should call 614-645-1253.

Additionally, the city's lateral lining program is ongoing, Westerfelt said.

The program is a noninvasive way to rehabilitate clay sanitary-sewer pipes that may have deteriorated or cracked. Crews access private lines from sewer mains and inject a substance into the pipes that seals them from the inside.

"The point is to reduce the amount of rainwater in the sanitary sewer system," Westerfelt said. "We want rainwater to flow away from foundations and into rain gardens or storm sewers."

The rain-garden program is ongoing, though work will not resume in Clintonville until 2024. Other areas, including North Linden, are set for rain-garden installation in 2021.

Westerfelt said none of these efforts has been affected significantly by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic -- although, as with many aspects of life in 2020, "things could change."

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